Texas business owner sending body armor to Ukrainians



Bret Starr was attending a conference in Las Vegas when he heard the news that Russia invaded Ukraine.

Starr, who owns The Starr Conspiracy, a Fort Worth-based marketing company whose clients inlcude Lyft and Virgin Pulse, immediately sent messages to his colleagues at Respect.Studio, a Ukrainian company that provides marketing services for his LinkedIn page. 

Starr said he was astounded when he got a note back from a Respect.Studio account executive in Lviv, Ukraine, who told him not to worry, and that the team would keep working although they would switch to communicating through text messages instead of email.

“I was amazed by that,” Starr said. “I didn’t care if they kept working. Suddenly, they were invaded. I told her don’t worry. We’ll keep paying you. I have a really good working relationship with the team there.”

Starr continued sending messages to his colleagues, asking what they needed and how he could help.

“Folks told me they would like for us to secure their air space. Take care of our air space, and we’ll take care of everything on the ground. Since that’s not happening, the thing they are asking for is body armor,” Starr said.

Starr started researching how to ship body armor and learned that he could get a license and send suits of Level IIIA body armor that can protect people against shrapnel and handgun bullets.

Starr posted about the plight of his Ukrainian colleagues on LinkedIn and created a Fundly page with a goal to raise $50,000 for the body armor.

“Yes, it takes a lot of logistics and planning,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post. “Yes, it takes some special licenses. But guess what … I promised some people in Ukraine that I wouldn’t give up until we were able to send them body armor.”

Starr said he is talking to people who expect an attack at any time.

Oleksii Sysak, a LinkedIn specialist at Respect.Studio, sent a WhatsApp message to the Star-Telegram. He said his city, Lviv, has not come under attack yet and that he is working from home to help his clients.

“In the event of an air alarm, my family and I will need to go to a safe place,” he wrote. “As for the atmosphere, it is very tense. We are in the west of the country where there is no fighting, but there were several air strikes in the early days of the war, despite the fact that it is relatively quiet here, there is a risk of subsequent airstrikes. So, we have such air alarms quite often especially at night.”

Sysak described how his friends and colleagues are helping one another. They are concerned about “marauding.”

Sysak said Starr is a hero for his effort to help Ukrainians.

“Brett is Respect’s hero. His engagement in helping us stunned us on the very first day, and he continues to proactively support us day by day. As per body armor — it’s one of those items our defenders crucially need right now and it’s really hard to get. A lot of volunteers are working with our foreign friends, especially in Poland, to find and buy them for us. Other needs are very dynamic and it’s best to monitor our volunteers and organizations that are working here for their requests. The needs vary based on the region.

“The top priority is to gather crucial medicines that are unavailable in the Ukrainian market at the moment due to high demand,” Sysak wrote.

Starr said he is working with nongovernmental organizations to ship the body armor to Ukraine.

 “What really bothers me about this stuff is that a lot of companies outsource to the Ukraine and other countries in the world and don’t treat them like partners. If you are working with someone who is an employee, you have a responsibility to provide care just like you do to your full-time employees. That’s one of the reasons why I am so engaged,” Starr said.

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With my guide dog Barbara, I keep tabs on growth, economic development and other issues in Northeast Tarrant cities and other communities near Fort Worth. I’ve been a reporter at the Star-Telegram for 34 years.

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